Students Supporting Israel at the University of Manitoba

By MYRON LOVE
Emily Kalo first encountered antisemitism on a trip to Halifax. “I didn’t know what to do or say,” recalls the Gray Academy graduate who is currently a science student  at the University of Manitoba.
Since that incident, Kalo has made it a point to learn how to counter anti-Israel  and antisemitism on campus to the point where she has become the founding president of Winnipeg’s first Students Supporting Israel (SSI) chapter.

 

 

In a recent email last week, Kalo wrote that “we have had a busy week and have a lot coming up.”
She noted that among the activities during the week were a membership kick off on Friday, March 15, with a table in the Arts building. “We offered fun fact sheets about the history of Israel and free pizza slices,” she reports. “We also signed up 56 new members.”
The following Sunday (the 17th), she adds, the SSI executive council went out for dinner with the executive council from the Indian Students Association at the University of Manitoba. “We shared stories and built relationships over delicious Indian food,” she reports. “They are definitely a group we will be working with in the future.”


Last Thursday (March 26), the SSI students joined the rest of the campus in celebrating “Gratitude Days” at University Center. “Gratitude Days” is a campaign that highlights what students can all be grateful for, and what common values and morals they all share, regardless of ethnic or religious backgrounds.
In early March, Emily Kalo and Ilan Jacobowitz spent three days at the StandWithUs In Focus conference. They got the opportunity to hear from activists, political leaders, and to network with other student leaders from across North America, the UK, Europe, and Brazil.
SSI is one of several pro-Israel organizations that have been formed in recent years to counter the growing anti-Israel and antisemitic activities on North American campuses.

Students Supporting Israel was founded about seven years ago at the University of Minnesota by students Naor Bitton, Ilan Sinelnikov and Valeria Chazin, following large protests on campus against the State of Israel in response to the last war with Hamas and affiliated terror groups in Gaza. SSI is a network of pro-Israel groups that united under one name and one leadership for the first time. The organization is focused on fighting the BDS campaign against Israel.


SSI now has chapters at more than 50 universities throughout North America and has been successful over the past few years in changing the narrative on campus and the conversation about Israel.
Emily Kalo’s path to leadership in fighting for Israel on campus began with that one antisemitic incident. She says that she mentioned it to Gray Academy teacher Avi Posen, who directed her to StandWithUsCanada’s newly formed Winnipeg chapter. The then-Grade 11 student applied for a SWUC High School Internship and was accepted. She and other seven other local interns also attended the annual SWU LA Leadership Conference in L.A. Winnipeg’s delegation was the largest Canadian delegation.


StandWithUsCanada was formed five years ago as an offshoot of the American organization that was founded by Roz Rothstein and her husband Jeremy in 2001 in Los Angeles, in response to the overwhelming negative publicity surrounding Israel during the height of the Palestinian terror campaign against Israel (2002-2002). Their goal was to educate others about Israel. Today, StandWithUs has more than 20 chapters throughout the U.S., Europe, Canada and Israel – with much of its focus in fighting anti-Zionism and anti-Israel propaganda on university campuses.
The Winnipeg chapter was the first chapter in Canada outside of Toronto.
The difference between SWU and SSI is that the latter is student-led while the former consists of concerned Jewish community members seeking to partner with Jewish student organizations on campus and with Jewish organizations in the community at large. SWU’s goal is to provide students with the education, tools, funding and support to advocate for Israel on campus.
Students Supporting Israel’s mission, as explained on its website, “is to be a clear and confident pro-Israel voice on campus and to support students in grassroots advocacy. The goal of SSI is to be the group that every student on campus knows and is aware of. It does not mean that every student on campus needs to be part of SSI, but everyone needs to know what SSI is and that SSI is here to stay.”

SSI Winnipeg consists of a nine-member governing council.
“We are in a fortunate position at the University of Manitoba in that we do not have to deal with outright hatred and abuse,” Kalo says. “We have an opportunity here to engage in positive conversations about Israel and create a positive view of Israel among the students without having to deal with the falsehoods.”

Coming up on April 5 for SSI Winnipeg is the touring Immigration Nation program, a campaign created by Students Supporting Israel to highlight the historical right of the Jewish people to live in their homeland focusing on the importance of The Law of Return and stories of immigrant communities to Israel from around the world. The program brings together Jewish Israelis from Ethiopian, Russian-Ukrainian, and Moroccan-Argentinian backgrounds and includes an overview of the Jewish law of return, its historical significance, how it fulfills the idea of Zionism and a Jewish homeland, and why having a country that defines itself as Jewish is not a topic for debate but an existing fact that questioning it means applying a double standards towards Israel.